Texas and Chile, a partnership uniquely matched

Texas and Chile, a partnership uniquely matched

Story by: Senior Master Sgt. Elizabeth Gilbert

Posted: April 26, 2016

Senior Master Sgt. Elizabeth Gilbert Critical Care Air Transport teams from the U.S. Air Force and Aerea Fuerza de Chile, load a mock patient onboard a C-130H2 aircraft belonging to the 136th Airlift Wing, Texas Air National Guard, during a medical air-evacuation exercise at Santiago, Chile, April 5, 2016. The one day exercise involved Texas and Oklahoma Air National Guardsman, Active duty USAF and Chilean air force medical teams as they collaborate and exchange techniques for domestic operations during natural disasters. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Senior Master Sgt. Elizabeth Gilbert/released)
Senior Master Sgt. Elizabeth Gilbert
Critical Care Air Transport teams from the U.S. Air Force and Aerea Fuerza de Chile, load a mock patient onboard a C-130H2 aircraft belonging to the 136th Airlift Wing, Texas Air National Guard, during a medical air-evacuation exercise at Santiago, Chile, April 5, 2016. The one day exercise involved Texas and Oklahoma Air National Guardsman, Active duty USAF and Chilean air force medical teams as they collaborate and exchange techniques for domestic operations during natural disasters. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Senior Master Sgt. Elizabeth Gilbert/released)

SANTIAGO, Chile—The morning after the ending of FIDAE 2016, the flight line at Fuerza Aerea De Chile in Santiago, emptied except for the lone C-130H2 Hercules aircraft from the 136th Airlift Wing, Texas Air National Guard; as it prepared for its second mission, a medical air-evacuation exercise with Chilean airmen, April 4, 2016.

The morning was cool and foggy, barely noticing the majestic Andes mountain range in the far off distance behind the rows of medical tents. Chilean medical teams scurried alongside doctors and nurses from the 136th Medical Group and 147th Medical Group, Critical Care Air transport Team (CCATT), Texas Air National Guard, preparing to receive patients at a moment’s notice. Texans and Chileans collaborated with each other, working side-by-side and learning from each other, a partnership equally matched.

“Texas is one of the best State partners,” said U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Kellie Williams, Chief Medical Operations and Plans Division, 12th Air Force, “because they are well equipped to respond to civilian domestic operations, same as Chile and uniquely matched to Texas with similar situations.”

In the distance, beyond the fog, one could hear the sounds of whirling blades approaching from the mock-crash site, bringing with it a helicopter full of mock casualties; a scene almost too familiar and reminiscent to the show ‘M.A.S.H.’ The moment the helicopter landed, corpsmen rushed to evacuate the helicopter and fill their gurneys with casualties. Seven patients were rushed into the medical tent for triage.

Doctors and nurses from both countries assessed the casualties and prepared them for an air-evacuation on board the C-130, where an aeromedical evacuation team from the 137th Medical Group, Oklahoma Air National Guard, waited for their embarkment. 

The most critical patients were passed on to the CCATT for stabilization prior to loading. The two countries worked seamlessly as if they had practiced together. This is the first time the Chilean medical team had worked side-by-side with the U.S. Airmen on a medical air-evacuation exercise in Chile. Language was only a slight barrier as medical terms were universally used.

The casualties were transported via litters onboard the C-130, which can carry up to 70 non-ambulatory patients, turning it into a high-capacity flying ambulance. 

Overall the exercise was a true success as each country took away valuable hands-on experiences from their time together. Future exercises are in the works to greater enhance the partnership between Texas and Chile.

“It was a wonderful experience being able to work with Chileans and exchange knowledge,” said U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Jong Lee, 147 MDG, CCAT physician and a burn specialist in his civilian job. “They were very knowledgeable and competent. They were also very hospitable.”

Texas Guardsman saves lives of Danish citizens; awarded Danish Defense Medal for Special Meritorious Service

Texas Guardsman saves lives of Danish citizens; awarded Danish Defense Medal for Special Meritorious Service

Story by: Capt. Martha Nigrelle

Posted On: April 22, 2016

CAPTION:  Capt. Bradley Grimm, center,Texas Army National Guard, receives the Danish Defense Medal for Special Meritorious Efforts by Danish Defense Gen. Peter Bartram, left, and American ambassador to Denmark Rufus Gifford, right, at a ceremony held in Denmark, April 19, 2016.  Grimm was instrumental in foiling a terrorist plot to bomb a Danish school and assisted Danish security forces in making an arrest. (Danish Military photo by Sune Wadskjær/Released)
Capt. Bradley Grimm, center,Texas Army National Guard, receives the Danish Defense Medal for Special Meritorious Efforts by Danish Defense Gen. Peter Bartram, left, and American ambassador to Denmark Rufus Gifford, right, at a ceremony held in Denmark, April 19, 2016. Grimm was instrumental in foiling a terrorist plot to bomb a Danish school and assisted Danish security forces in making an arrest. (Danish Military photo by Sune Wadskjær/Released)

AUSTIN, Texas – Texas National Guard Capt. Bradley Grimm was awarded the Danish Defense Medal for Special Meritorious Service in a ceremony held in Denmark, April 19, 2016.

“Capt. Grimm provided actionable intelligence about a bomb threat against a school in Denmark,” said Col. Steve Warren, a spokesman for Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve. “The information he provided helped to foil a plot, and resulted in an arrest and a confiscation of explosives. Brad's work likely saved the lives of Danish citizens.”

The information included a bomb threat against a Danish school.

According to Warren, Grimm helped develop a system to speed the flow of intelligence from the ground up to national capitals. This system was paramount in identifying the Danish authorities of the terrorist threat.

“It’s not every day an American captain receives a very high, prestigious medal from a foreign country,” Warren said.

Defense Gen. Peter Bartram, Danish Defense Chief, presented Grimm with the Danish Defense Medal for Meritorious Service with special honors.

According to a Danish officer, not only is the award one of the highest awards in Denmark, but also the special meritorious duty citation makes this award very rare. The medal is awarded infrequently, even to Danes, and is roughly equivalent to something more than a Legion of Merit, but less than a Silver Star.

The medal was originally awarded for meritorious deployment outside of Denmark, but after 2010, the Danish government began awarding it to civilians or military personnel for meritorious service for the betterment of the Danish Defense.

“Capt. Grimm’s actions had a monumental impact on our allies in Denmark, and consequently on our coalition in the fight against international terrorism,” said Maj. Gen. John F. Nichols, the Adjutant General of Texas. “He embodies what our force stands for – Duty, Honor, Texas.”

Texas Air National Guard member continues military ambassador tradition

Texas Air National Guard member continues military ambassador tradition

Story by: Staff Sgt. Mindy Bloem

Posted: April 22, 2016

Staff Sgt. Mindy Bloem Tech. Sgt. Jacqueline Crow, an intelligence analyst with the 149th Fighter Wing, Texas Air National Guard, and fellow Air Force ambassador, Tech. Sgt. Steven Nowicki, 341st Training Squadron, both headquartered at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas, talk to 2nd Lt. Phil Fountain, a 149th Public Affairs officer, during the Fiesta 2016 Media Day, March 16, 2016, in downtown San Antonio. Crow and Nowicki represent JBSA as Air Force ambassadors, a military community engagement program that annually selects the top two members, male and female respectively, from each service branch as representatives.
Staff Sgt. Mindy Bloem
Tech. Sgt. Jacqueline Crow, an intelligence analyst with the 149th Fighter Wing, Texas Air National Guard, and fellow Air Force ambassador, Tech. Sgt. Steven Nowicki, 341st Training Squadron, both headquartered at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas, talk to 2nd Lt. Phil Fountain, a 149th Public Affairs officer, during the Fiesta 2016 Media Day, March 16, 2016, in downtown San Antonio. Crow and Nowicki represent JBSA as Air Force ambassadors, a military community engagement program that annually selects the top two members, male and female respectively, from each service branch as representatives.

For the second year in a row, a member of the 149th Fighter Wing, Texas Air National Guard, is representing the U.S. Air Force in an official capacity at local area events.

Tech. Sgt. Jacqueline Crow, an intelligence analyst with the 149th FW, and Tech. Sgt. Steven Nowicki, a military working dog instructor from the 341st Training Squadron, are this year's Air Force military ambassadors, selected out of Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas.

Every year, military ambassadors from each service branch are chosen in pairs, one male and one female, to act as appointed representatives and engage with the community at various events throughout the year.

Crow competed for the special designation against Air Force active duty, Guard and Reserve members from all three surrounding JBSA installations: Fort Sam Houston, Randolph and Lackland.

"It's an amazing opportunity to represent the Total Force, both Air National Guard and active duty, going out and putting on one team, one fight," she said.

Before being chosen for the position, top-qualifying candidates go before a selection board. Crow's board was comprised of active duty chiefs and the previous year's Air Force ambassadors. Both of last year's ambassadors, Tech. Sgt. Stephanie Hall and Master Sgt. Juan Flores, are members of the 149th FW. But for Crow, that commonality didn't make the atmosphere any less intimidating.

"It was actually kind of more nerve-wracking with both of them on the board because they knew me - actually Juan didn't know me at that point," she said remembering the details of the panel. "They asked us questions in regards to Fiesta and what our involvement in the San Antonio community was."

Flores, one of last year's Air Force ambassadors, said the ambassador applicants get asked a lot of Fiesta San Antonio questions because the bulk of events that the ambassadors attend involve the annual event.

Every year, the city of San Antonio hosts Fiesta, which runs for ten days in April. This year marks its 125th anniversary.

Flores said that Crow had a lot of the characteristics the panel looks for when choosing its ambassadors.

"You want someone who has charisma," he said. "You don't want someone who is strictly all military, who doesn't show much emotion. You want someone who has good military bearing, yes, but you also want someone who is personable."

It took about a week for Crow to hear back about the board's decision. The then-wing executive, Maj. Cindy Storoy, who Crow credits as the driving force behind her decision to apply, called to congratulate her on being selected as an Air Force ambassador.

"I was excited," Crow said looking back on that moment. "I'm pretty sure there was some dancing around the living room. I don't think I realized just how extensive and how great of an opportunity this is to represent the Air Force."

Now having attended several events and gaining a little more insight into what the military ambassador program is all about, Crow said she better understands its significance.

"To be a member of the 149th [FW] that continues the tradition and to be a part of the ambassador program on this big of a stage feels amazing," she said.

In the spirit of continuing that tradition, Hall, last year's female Air Force ambassador, passed down her Air Force service cap for Crow to wear during this year's many outside events. "She said, 'you need this hat because the sun is going to be in your eyes a lot, so here's my hat. Does it fit?' And it fit perfectly, so we're already talking about next year, hopefully passing that hat onto somebody else that wins the ambassador program."

Hall said she was just glad it fit because she liked the idea of another Gunfighter continuing the tradition of the ambassador program, which she views as a "bond between the San Antonio community and the entire military community."

Like her military ambassadors before her have said, Crow remarked that one of the program's aspects she finds most rewarding is the interaction she gets with her fellow ambassadors from the other services.

"You don't really know that these other branches have a presence on these bases until you get to know these guys and they're like, 'yeah, we do this,' and I'm thinking I didn't know that was a mission here, so it's been eye opening to say the least," she said.

The learning experience seems to go both ways.

"I was familiar with the Guard because I had worked with them on deployments before, but I wasn't as familiar with the 149th FW, said Nowicki, who is Crow's Air Force ambassador male counterpart. "I didn't know it was a Guard unit. [Crow] has taught me a lot about its different roles and functions. I always joke that she's the brains and I'm the brawn in this operation. It really has been great getting to know her. I've just learned so much from her."

During the ambassador introductions, Crow states her job title and affiliation with the Air National Guard, which often generates interest from her military counterparts.

"They'll approach me afterwards and say, 'oh, you're Guard, that's awesome, Total Force. We're so happy to see the Guard representing this year.' It feels awesome to carry on the tradition," she said.

Having the responsibility of representing both her wing and her service could seem daunting, but Crow doesn't let it get to her.

"I'm just going to go out and have fun, and I'm going to be myself," she said. I'm going to do everything I can to represent not just the Air Force but the Air National Guard in a positive light. If I can just do that, then there shouldn't be any pressure."

Texas Guardsmen rescue 140 in Houston floods

Texas Guardsmen rescue 140 in Houston floods

Story by: Capt. Martha Nigrelle

Posted: April 21, 2016

Texas Guardsmen from the 736th Component Repair Company, 36th Sustainment Brigade, 36th Infantry Division work alongside local and state emergency responders to rescue Texans in need from severe flooding in Houston, Texas, April 19, 2016. Texas Guardsmen, working with Harris County emergency response units and Texas Task Force 1, rescued 140 people in five hours. (U.S. Army National Guard photo courtesy of 736th Component Repair Company, 36th Sustainment Brigade/Released)
Texas Guardsmen from the 736th Component Repair Company, 36th Sustainment Brigade, 36th Infantry Division work alongside local and state emergency responders to rescue Texans in need from severe flooding in Houston, Texas, April 19, 2016. Texas Guardsmen, working with Harris County emergency response units and Texas Task Force 1, rescued 140 people in five hours. (U.S. Army National Guard photo courtesy of 736th Component Repair Company, 36th Sustainment Brigade/Released)

HOUSTON – Texas Guardsmen from the 736th Component Repair Company, 36th Infantry Division, pulled 140 people to safety from severe flooding in Houston, April 19, 2016.

Working alongside Harris County Police officers, firefighters, Sheriff’s Office and Texas Task Force 1, guardsmen worked through the night to help Texans in need.

After linking up with partner emergency responders at the Harris County Fireman Training Center in Humble, the soldiers split up to provide assistance to severely flooded neighborhoods, sending half of their trucks to Ponderosa, a neighborhood located on the north side of Houston.

“We went into the water for about an hour and a half and came out with about 20 people,” said Chief Warrant Officer 4 Michael Hoover, 736th Component Repair Company. “One of our other trucks stayed in the water until after 9 p.m. and pulled out 90 people.”

Each truck went out with officers from the Sheriff’s Office or the local police department and some also went with boat rescue squads from Texas Task Force 1.

“Our trucks can only go into 40 inches of water,” said Hoover, explaining that some of their trucks went out worked with rescue boats. “Task Force 1 boats would go ahead of us in their boats and bring them back to the truck, then we would bring them to dry land.”

The Emergency Medical Technicians, working with 9-1-1 dispatch, received addresses of distressed citizens, and passed the addresses on to guardsmen and firefighters so they could respond. 

“As we would go to the address, we would pick up others who needed help,” said Sgt. Allan Abel, 736th Component Repair Company. “We were supposed to stop at dark, but we got four priority calls just after dark and that took us a while because we kept filling up with people.”

Deep waters made military land navigation training important in their ability to help those in need.

“In some places we had to go light pole to light pole; there were essentially no markers,” said Abel. “Our training in hasty navigation and terrain association was hugely beneficial – that’s what we were doing.”

Texas National Guard high profile military vehicles were essential in rescue operations, said Chief Bob Royall, Assistant Chief of Joint Emergency Operations, Harris County Fire Marshall’s Office. The majority of first responder vehicles are unable to maneuver through such deep waters and many rescue boats are limited to holding about six people, said Royall. 

According to Abel, the military trucks were able to safely seat up to 25 people, in addition to the necessary soldiers and emergency first responders that accompanied each mission. 

“Many Harris County residents underestimated the dangers of rising flood waters; they lost all power and were cut off from society. Simple things like going to the doctor became very dangerous,” said Royall. “Had it not been for the National Guard’s high water vehicles, we would not have been able to get to many of these folks. There are untold hundreds, possibly thousands, we would not have been able to get to.”

Members of the community also worked to support rescue efforts. 

“We went to Tin Roof Barbecue in Humble with Task Force 1 for lunch, about 60 people, and the owner refused to let us pay,” said Hoover. “There are a lot of civilians out here doing really outstanding stuff, supporting the guard, the task force and the police. They make our work a lot easier.”

Throughout Harris County, and the state, people worked together to help those in need.

“I’ve always felt the need to serve,” said Abel. “This is my main driver, to be able to do things like this for my fellow Texans.”

To date, Texas Guardsmen have helped rescue 221 people and 41 pets from severe flooding in southeast Texas.

Texas recruiter helping people to change their lives

Texas recruiter helping people to change their lives

Story by: Capt. Martha Nigrelle

Posted: April 20, 2016

Courtesy Photo Master Sgt. Andrew Marmolejo , right, Texas Army National Guard, goes over administrative paperwork with one of the recruiters on his team. Marmolejo is the top recruiter for the Texas Army National Guard’s Recruiting and Retention Battalion, a unit consistently meets and exceeds their recruiting goals. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Mr. Steve Johnson/ Released)
Courtesy Photo
Master Sgt. Andrew Marmolejo , right, Texas Army National Guard, goes over administrative paperwork with one of the recruiters on his team. Marmolejo is the top recruiter for the Texas Army National Guard’s Recruiting and Retention Battalion, a unit consistently meets and exceeds their recruiting goals. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Mr. Steve Johnson/ Released)

AUSTIN, Texas – Master Sgt. Andrew Marmolejo has been a recruiter for the Texas Army National Guard for ten years; it’s a mission he believes in.

“It’s all about being able to help people,” said Marmolejo, “taking a 17-year-old kid, seeing him transition and being able to help him change his life.”

Marmolejo is the noncommissioned officer in charge of Texas Army National Guard’s Recruiting and Retention Battalion’s Recruiting Team 13 or Team Wolfpack.

The Wolfpack’s territory runs through Austin and into surrounding counties. From this area Marmolejo’s team is expected to recruit 96 soldiers in 2016. With 75 enlistments already processed Marmolejo expects to reach their goal by May. Most would be ready to rest, but Marmolejo says they will stay busy.

“We will continue to recruit and we will help with retention and transition,” he said.

The Recruiting and Retention Battalion mission is three-fold, said Lt. Col. August Murray, Recruiting and Retention Battalion commander, recruit the right people for the job, retain the best people for the job and to prevent losses.

“What we do is of critical importance to our organization and our state,” said Murray. “It is vital that our communities and our units have all the soldiers they need when called upon to accomplish a mission.”

To better prepare recruits for their transition into the military and help promote success, the National Guard developed the Recruitment Sustainment Program, a program designed to introduce new service members to the military environment, and to ease their adjustment to basic training. 

From the time they join the National Guard, recruits begin training monthly with their recruiters and other new enlistees to practice basic military skills that will help them succeed at basic training and advanced individual training. Recruiters continue to mentor their recruits through this training and even bring them to their first drill with their Guard unit.

The extra time recruiters spend with RSP recruits, not only prepares them for basic training, but helps them to excel, said Marmolejo. 

“This year we’ve had six Distinguished Honor Graduates,” he said.

Recruiting men and women to join the military can be difficult in some places, but historically, Texas has met and exceeded their recruiting goals, said Murray. 

Demographics may play a part in this being that Texas is home to five of the 10 fastest growing cities, but Murray thinks it has more to do with the spirit of Texas. 

“Texans are patriotic,” said Murray. “They are proud to serve Texas and the nation in the National Guard. We enjoy a lot of community and state support.”

Texas pride may help Marmolejo when recruiting, but his dedication to mentoring his team and his recruits is what sets him apart. 

In 2009, Marmolejo recruited Diana Lopez, enlisting her into the Texas Army National Guard. 

“I was skeptical at first, but he was very honest about what the National Guard was about,” said Lopez. “He encouraged me; the National Guard was so good for him.”

When Marmolejo found out Lopez wanted to obtain a master’s degree and become an officer, he helped her enroll in the Reserve Officer Training Corps program. 

To offset the cost of her education Marmolejo helped Lopez apply for state tuition assistance, a unique benefit for Texas Guardsmen.

“He set up everything and guided me through the process,” said Lopez. “I just filled in the blanks.”

Marmolejo stayed in touch with Lopez, always available to provide military guidance as she navigated her way through her career in the National Guard. 

When Lopez had to withdraw from the ROTC program due to a family issue, it was Marmolejo who reminded her of her goal to become an officer and helped her apply for Officer Candidate School. 

“He came to my commissioning at the Capitol,” said Lopez. “He puts a lot of focus on leadership; he takes it very seriously.”

An important part of that leadership is teamwork. 

“Either we are going to be great as a team, or we are going to be horrible, but we are a team,” said Marmolejo. “Team mentality – once accepted, it drives big numbers, because everyone wants to be a part of it.”

Marmolejo credits his team for their dedication to the job, recounting how many times a member of his team has called late at night, with a question. 

“They are very hardworking,” said Marmolejo “And they are truly a team. You would think they were a family as close as they are to each other.”

Whether it’s working with the recruiters on his team or mentoring new recruits, working to build and sustain quality service members for the Texas Army National Guard is a job he is committed to for the organization he loves.

“To me, joining the military should be a first resort,” said Marmolejo. “It’s a great opportunity.”

Texas CERFP trains, learns at Operation Vigilant Guard in Louisiana

Texas CERFP trains, learns at Operation Vigilant Guard in Louisiana

Story by: Staff Sgt. Jennifer Atkinson

Posted: April 18, 2016

Staff Sgt. Jennifer Atkinson Soldiers with the Texas Natonal Guard's 836th Sapper Co., 6th CBRNE Enhanced Response Force Package – CERFP, part of the Joint Task Force 136th (Maneuver Enhancement Brigade), work to stabilize a casualty by flashlight in near pitch dark during a collapsed structure rescue mission, as part of exercise Operation Vigilant Guard 2016 near Baton Rouge, La. April 15-17, 2016. Vigilant Guard focused on testing many of the state's response plans by having a Category 3 or 4 hurricane make landfall somewhere along the coast of Louisiana. In addition to fostering relationships between military and civilian partner agencies, the exercise allowed the exchange of ideas and best practices between the Louisiana and Texas CERFP units. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Jennifer D. Atkinson/Released)
Staff Sgt. Jennifer Atkinson
Soldiers with the Texas National Guard's 836th Sapper Co., 6th CBRNE Enhanced Response Force Package – CERFP, part of the Joint Task Force 136th (Maneuver Enhancement Brigade), work to stabilize a casualty by flashlight in near pitch dark during a collapsed structure rescue mission, as part of exercise Operation Vigilant Guard 2016 near Baton Rouge, La. April 15-17, 2016. Vigilant Guard focused on testing many of the state's response plans by having a Category 3 or 4 hurricane make landfall somewhere along the coast of Louisiana. In addition to fostering relationships between military and civilian partner agencies, the exercise allowed the exchange of ideas and best practices between the Louisiana and Texas CERFP units. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Jennifer D. Atkinson/Released)

BATON ROUGE, La. (April 16, 2016) – Disaster response involves a plethora of military and civilian agencies, including the 6th CBRNE Enhanced Response Force Package – CERFP. Making sure those parts stay connected and moving in the same direction takes training and coordination across both military and civilian agencies.

During Operation Vigilant Guard, held near Baton Rouge, La., April 15-17, 2016, the Soldiers and Airmen of the 6th CERFP, part of the Texas National Guard's Joint Task Force 136 (Maneuver Enhancement Brigade), enjoyed a chance to train with the Louisiana CERFP, Louisiana Task Forces 1 and 2, and members of the Florida CERFP, as well as coordinating transportation and vehicle movement validation with the Mississippi and West Virginia Air National Guards. 

For CERFP Commander Lt. Col. Heather Flores, Vigilant Guard satisfied two main objectives for her troops- to train and be trained. 

“Our primary objective during Vigilant Guard was to get our new trailers validated in an air load,” said Flores. “We received new trailers last year, and so we had to get all our equipment repacked and figure out how to load that into a military airframe.”

A C-17 crew from the West Virginia Air National Guard transported members of the CERFP, along with the new trailers for validation, instructing the Texas Guardsmen on how to properly install loading ramps as well as securing equipment, large and small, for air movement. The flight crew was “wonderful,” said Flores. “They did an amazing job training us and getting all our equipment loaded.”

After reaching Baton Rouge and unloading the trucks, trailers and baggage from the plane, the second part of the mission began. 

“Our other objective during Vigilant Guard was to help the Louisiana CERFP get their new Search and Extraction teams trained up,” said Flores. 

Search and Extraction Teams have a unique mission set, said 1st Lt. Jason Montalvo, 1st Platoon leader, 836th Sapper Co., part of the 6th CERFP.

“We go in to areas where there may be chemical or other hazards,” he said, “and we rescue people from collapsed structures or inaccessible places.”

After linking up with the incident commander, said Montalvo, there is a chain of events leading up to actually heading in to the “hot zone.” Determining the exact nature of the disaster, including any chemical hazards, setting up an operations center next to decontamination assets, and setting up a reconnaissance team all happen before anyone ever suits up to head into the hazardous area. “After all that, we suit up- in full protective gear if necessary- and we establish our priorities of work,” he said.

This kind of exercise with the support of an experienced unit is very helpful, said 1st Lt. Tolliver Washington, executive officer for the 927th Engineer Company, Louisiana CERFP's S&E element. 

Although Washington knows his Sappers are up to the challenge, it's still useful to look to what other units do. “Being a combat engineer relates to this mission,” he said, “since we do a lot of hands-on missions, and when something goes wrong we can fix it, but there's a difference between a unit with four years of experience and a unit with a few months of training. We've had this mission less than a year, so we're still in the early phases of our mission. We're working on getting all the training but this type of exercise is a huge benefit.” 

The Sappers in the 836th learn from each exercise, too, according to Montalvo. He stressed the exchange of ideas as a key element to the training. 

“We're here to help this S&E team get ready for their overall evaluation," he said, "but we want to trade ideas so we can all implement ideas and process that work better. It's important because we've all got really diverse thoughts.”

The Sapper Company stays proficient in their military mission, says Montalvo, and that helps with their civil support mission as well. “Obviously, we're not going to use explosives when trying to rescue people from a collapsed building, but that's not the only thing engineers do. We do other types of work, including vertical construction, and we work with our hands a lot. That gives us a broad knowledge base to draw on but hearing from other people is always good.”

The training benefits extend to another integral part of the S&E teams- the Air National Guard rig medics. The rig medics, highly trained Airmen, deploy with each S&E team to render medical care to casualties inside the hazard area. In order to do so safely, they must be trained to perform the same ascending and descending tasks as the Sappers.

“I really enjoy this part of being a medic,” said Airman 1st Class Juan Espinoza. “There's a lot of thinking on your feet because everything changes.” For Espinoza, the newest rig medic in the CERFP's 149th Medical Detachment, this exercise was his first true test. 

“I haven't gone through the full rig medic training,” he said, "so I had to learn everything on the fly.”

Although he was nervous at first, coming through the other side of a tough mission has been eye-opening. 

“I feel really confident in the team and what we can do,” Espinoza said. “We save people's lives. We get in, we get the patients and we get them out and to higher tier medical care.

“I am so proud of these guys,” said Flores. “They do amazing work for Texas and for all of FEMA Region 6. It tickles me to death to watch them do their jobs.”

Apart from the hands-on aspect of training, exercises like Vigilant Guard give agencies a great chance to test communications, said Flores. “In the military, we use a lot of acronyms, and a lot of our civilian counterparts have no idea what they mean, so it's good to practice communicating in plain terms.” 

Not all communication issues are between people, said Flores. “Our radios had to be reprogrammed so we could talk to the local first responders,” she said. 

Technical adjustments aside, the Louisiana CERFP “integrated us really well, and it was great to see our teams embedded into the local urban search and rescue teams and Louisiana Task Forces 1 and 2,” said Flores.

“No exercise every goes the way you expect,” said Flores. “This is a great chance to keep our folks flexible and thinking outside the box.”

Camp Mabry brings World War II to life during annual Open House

Camp Mabry brings World War II to life during annual Open House

Story By: Capt. James Greenwood

Posted On: April 17, 2016

AUSTIN, Texas – The Living History Detachment of the Texas Military Forces Museum performed a fiery, stirring reenactment of a battle between the Texas Army National Guard’s 36th Infantry Division and a unit of German soldiers near the end of World War II during the annual Texas Military Department’s Open House at Camp Mabry, in Austin, on April 16-17, 2016.

Surrounded by the thick foliage and marshy ponds of Camp Mabry, with a dark gray sky threatening heavy rains overhead, tanks and soldiers emerged from the tree line and opened fire on each other.

Every uniform, weapon and vehicle was reproduced with painstaking historical accuracy, and yet the rattle of machine guns and boom of artillery brought the battle very much into the present.

The detachment traditionally hosts displays and presentations from every military campaign the Texas Guard has participated in since the Texas Revolution through the Vietnam War, to include a World War II reenactment with World War II aircraft and several 1940’s Army tanks. They seek to preserve military history, Texas history and teach people about the equipment and tactics used during each time period.

“The Volunteers are dedicated to honoring and supporting the troops,” said Jeff Hunt the director of the Texas Military Forces Museum at Camp Mabry.

Students, some as young as 14, doctors, lawyers, army veterans, historians and teachers comprised a majority of the actors. They slept in World War II style tents near the battlegrounds and did their best to mimic what life was like for American soldiers of the period.

"I have been inspired by WWII history since I was a child,” said Matt Rayson, portraying a rifleman in the 36th Infantry Division. “My father is also a reenactor.”

Reenactments provide more than education, for many veterans it is an opportunity to share their experiences with family and friends, and for some it is an opportunity to heal emotionally.

"A marine veteran who was a POW during Word War II, after seeing a reenactment of the battle of Iwo Jima, finally let go of the pain he endured as a prisoner of the Japanese army," said Hunt.

The living history detachment conducts approximately one living history program a month and participates in reenactments all over the country, hosting several of their own at Camp Mabry each year.

Texas Military, Austin Police showcase partnership during annual Open House

Texas Military, Austin Police showcase partnership during annual Open House

Story by: Spc. Christina Clardy

Posted on: April 17, 2016

Spectators check out an Austin Police Department helicopter during the 10th annual Texas Military Department's Open House featuring the American Heroe’s Air Show. The event showcases the Texas Military Department and various state and local law enforcement agencies, first responders, volunteer services and veteran support organizations at Camp Mabry in Austin, Saturday, April 16, 2016. The free two day event featured the Traveling Vietnam Wall, a naturalization ceremony for members of all military branches, World War II and Vietnam reenactments, the Missing in America Project, local first responder demonstrations, a JROTC Drill competition and numerous vendors.(U.S. Army National Guard photo by Spc. Christina Clardy/Released)
Spectators check out an Austin Police Department helicopter during the 10th annual Texas Military Department's Open House featuring the American Heroe’s Air Show. The event showcases the Texas Military Department and various state and local law enforcement agencies, first responders, volunteer services and veteran support organizations at Camp Mabry in Austin, Saturday, April 16, 2016. The free two day event featured the Traveling Vietnam Wall, a naturalization ceremony for members of all military branches, World War II and Vietnam reenactments, the Missing in America Project, local first responder demonstrations, a JROTC Drill competition and numerous vendors.(U.S. Army National Guard photo by Spc. Christina Clardy/Released)

AUSTIN, Texas – Despite the heavy mist and scattered showers, members of the Texas Military Department, state and local law enforcement officers, first responders, volunteer services and veteran support organizations turned out for the Texas Military Department’s Open House weekend featuring the American Heroes Show at Camp Mabry, in Austin, April 16, 2016.

The free public event showcased a wide variety of demonstrations, reenactments, static displays, an 80 percent replica of the Vietnam War memorial, vendors and family fun events focused on the continued partnership between the various State and local civil services and the Texas Military Department.

“This is our 10th year to put on this event in partnership with the Texas Military Department,” said Austin Police Cpl. Wut Tantaksinanukij, this year’s American Heroes Show co-director. “It’s a great community event for the citizens here, who many don’t even realize that there is a military base in the center of Austin, and they don’t realize that it is open to the public.”

The Austin Police Department shares a long partnership with Camp Mabry and the service men and women of the Texas Military Department. Together, they share in numerous training and real-life reactionary situations that allow the two departments the opportunity to learn from one another and to gain a deep understanding of how their counterparts operate.

“We have a great working relationship with the folks here at Camp Mabry and the Texas Military Department, and have for a great many years,” said Tantaksinanukij. “There are all different types of emergency scenarios that could bring us together. With continued training and partnership, we will have a professional resolution to any situations that arise.”

The Texas Military Department, as part of the Defense Support to Civilian Authorities, has mobilized 24,000 guardsmen in support of federal, state and local law enforcement and first responders in more than 183 natural and man-made disasters since 2001. These include wildfires, flash floods, winter weather, hurricanes and law enforcement.

Many officers from the Austin Police Department, Austin Fire Department and Austin Emergency Medical Services train frequently with their counterparts from the Texas Military Department on the joint Texas Task Force-1. According to their mission statement, the task force is one of 28 federal teams under the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s National Urban Search and Rescue System and the Texas Division of Emergency Management.

“During natural disasters, state governments call on many federal and state response agencies to assist local first responders,” said Senior Lt. Kurt Rothert, Austin Police

Department Special Operations unit, during the police and military tactics demonstration. “In Texas, a specialized partnership exists between the Texas Military Department and the most active urban search and rescue team in the country, Texas Task Force 1.”

This Urban Search and Rescue Task Force has more than 600 members including doctors, first responders, military counterparts, structural engineers, canine handlers, professors and experts throughout many different fields. In addition, the Texas Military Department partners with Task Force-1 providing water response capabilities and aviation response teams.

“As part of Task Force 1, I work with the Texas Military Department on a monthly basis,” said Austin Fire Department Lt. Matt McElearney, Company Officer for Engine 32. “For example, we train with the National Guard’s helicopter units using their hoists for rescue missions, such as water rescue where people may be stuck in their houses, on a car or in a tree during a flood or emergency situation.”

Despite the weather, more than 5,900 people visited the Open House on Saturday.

“The weather didn’t cooperate with us this year but we are excited and already planning for next year,” said Tantaksinanukij. “It’s exciting for us to showcase what we do on a public side of the house through the Austin Police Department, the Austin Fire Department, the Austin EMS, and show some of our other skills sets that we have to offer to keep our community safe. But also to show how the Texas Military Department and the Austin Police Department play two different roles, and how we integrate those two components in our partnership.”